Here’s a short article that puts into words what I think much better than I can.
1930s Farm Life
The Great Depression changed the lives of people who lived and farmed on the Great Plains and in turn, changed America. The government programs that helped them to live through the 1930s changed the future of agriculture forever. Weather touched every part of life in the "Dirty 30s": dust, insects, summer heat and winter cold. York County farm families didn't have heat, light or indoor bathrooms like people who lived in town. Many farm families raised most of their own food – eggs and chickens, milk and beef from their own cows, and vegetables from their gardens. People who grew up during the Depression said, "No one had any money. We were all in the same boat." Neighbors helped each other through hard times, sickness, and accidents. Farm families got together with neighbors at school programs, church dinners, or dances. Children and adults found ways to have fun for free – playing board games, listening to the radio, or going to outdoor movies in town.
When the dryness, heat, and grasshoppers destroyed the crops, farmers were left with no money to buy groceries or make farm payments. Some people lost hope and moved away. Many young men took government jobs building roads and bridges. By 1940, normal rainfall returned, and federal programs helped to boost farm prices and improve the soil. About the same time, a new government program started to hook up farmhouses to electricity, making farm life easier and safer. (read the rest)
Notice that it mentions federal programs. Tax payers money had to be used to save the farmers. That gives you an idea of how profitable and safe the activity is during hard times.
The lesson I learned from my hard working grandparents is that you don’t want to depend exclusively on farming for putting food on the table, paying the bills, paying for your health insurance, heat, etc.
When my grandparents lived in Spain, my grandma’s family farmed for a living. Buying a few liters of oil, flour, the things they didn’t produce meant they had to sell a lot of what they produced to afford them. It was extremely hard work for little profit in terms of both food and purchasing power. My grandma became a teacher and soon started with classes, traveling through the small towns nearby, teaching in the houses where a few neighbors would gather. She got paid with food and some money. In those days it was a bit of an honor to host the teacher, she generally went to the wealthiest, biggest home in town where more neighboring children would fit for the class. My grandfather made a better living because instead of farmer he was a good carpenter, made good roofs which were much appreciated and sought after, and he got paid well for his work. That provided him with a better income and a better quality of life in general as well. When he came to Argentina they didn’t buy land to farm. My grandma opened a small bakery that soon became pretty successful and my grandfather opened a carpentry shop that went well too, soon had a workshop that occupied half a block. They had a house with an orchard and chickens but my grandmother said she’d never go back to farming.
Unless you have several hundreds or thousands of acres and make an important amount of profit, farming really isn’t that safe an occupation. Like the article above explains, many farmers lost their land during the great depression because of this, were forced to take other jobs and so on. Basically its the same old story in USA, Spain during the civil war and my country too.
Meanwhile there’s resourceful people that find ways of making lots of money during hard times like these, while at the same time creating job opportunities for others in need as well. I think that’s just as honorable a profession as working the land. You get to make money and give jobs to other families as well.
The way I see it, producing food in most cases should be combined with a more profitable, safer occupations if possible. That’s why I’d rather have a small orchard, some fruit trees and small animals, but no more than that and certainly not make it a full time job.
Another thing that I think is important to mention regarding farming and survival is that such an activity basically pins you to your location. Emigrating like some Jews did when they saw what was coming, how my grandparents did during the Spanish civil war or how my own parents, brothers (and I’ll do as well) after the 2001 crisis would be much harder if not downright impossible if you depend entirely on your land for your survival. You need enough money to start over and you’ll have to get some other kind of job. Most immigrants worked in factories and today its not that different. People emigrating abroad usually end up with a 9 to 5 job and you’re much better off if you have a profession that allows you to do that more easily. In my grandfather’s time it was carpentry, for my old man, my brothers and myself it’s a degree (architecture, accountant) and above all, fluidly knowing a second language. A degree and being fluent in English and Spanish means that pretty much you can find a job in half the countries round the globe. That’s what I think is the smartest thing to do, and the more adaptable survival strategy.
I certainly have nothing against farming. I just see to many weak spots from a strategic survival point of view. I thinks it’s a honorable way of life, my grandparents on both sides of the family farmed and even today we have relatives that keep living and farming in the same town they did 200 years ago. I’ve visited them. I would not want to switch places with them and I know perfectly well that their situation is much more vulnerable from a survival point of view because of what I mentioned above: a) little income therefore little flexibility and less money to acquire resources b) they are pinned to their location and leaving would be much harder. Natural or man made disasters that affect their location will have a direct impact on their lives, losing their source of sustainability.
YMMV of course, just my opinion on the subject and all that.